If you're the obsessive "Harry Potter" fan that re-reads the series at various intervals throughout your life, you can attest to the fact that reading these books as an adult is a vastly different experience from reading them as a kid. For one, you tend to pick up on details that your younger self-overlooked.
For me, this was definitely true when it came to the political statements buried within the text. It's no secret that J.K. Rowling harbors passionate beliefs when it comes to public affairs, so it makes sense that these would shine through her writing.
However, a part of me was still surprised to discover all of the social commentaries I'd passed by years ago. "Harry Potter" teaches kids about way more than just love if they manage to catch it. It demonstrates political machinations at work, both in the Wizarding World and in our world.
1. The consequences of prejudice
This is the only item on the list that I did catch on my first read. It's impossible to miss the pureblood prejudice toward Muggleborns, considering it's the basis of the entire series. It's clear that this obsession with the purity of wizarding blood is the Wizarding World equivalent of racism, and it serves as a rallying point for Voldemort and his Death Eaters.
Rowling's story depicts how much suffering is caused by prejudice, and it encourages fans to fight it.
2. The importance of a fair judicial system
Until re-reading these novels, I never realized how prevalent the theme of conviction without a fair trial is throughout the series. Numerous characters are shipped off to Azkaban without any opportunity to declare their innocence.
Sirius Black is the primary example of this, but we see it in other instances as well. In "Chamber of Secrets," Hagrid is taken away without any proof that he's been opening the Chamber of Secrets. "Prisoner of Azkaban" shows Buckbeak's biased and laughable facade of a trial. And Stan Shunpike is arrested later in the series, despite many people insisting that he's probably under the Imperius curse.
Of course, all of these characters would be capable of defending themselves if given a fair trial.
Again and again, the consequences of an unjust criminal justice system are brought to light. And the results are never good.
3. S.P.E.W. and political indifference
Hermione's failed attempts to rouse support for house elf rights becomes a bit of a running joke throughout the series. All of the characters, including her friends, scoff at her futile attempts to organize for a cause she believes in. Eventually, readers find themselves shaking their heads at her as well.
But the joke's on us. That the characters' indifference extends to readers tells us something about the effect political apathy has on society. If the majority regard injustice as the norm, many of us are happy to follow suit.
4. The connection between wealth and power
"My father will hear about this!" Malfoy's famous line is another fandom-wide joke, but something more sinister lies beneath the Malfoy family's ability to pull strings to get what they want.
Lucius Malfoy's numerous connections within the Ministry of Magic are an obvious result of his wealth. It's implied that his money is the reason he was able to escape Azkaban after Voldemort's disappearance, and it's also given him a fair amount of say in the Ministry's actions.
Through the Malfoy family, Rowling makes it clear that money can buy you a certain amount of power, particularly in the political sphere. But given the use of their wealth, this doesn't seem something we should aspire to.
5. Keeping government out of education
The Ministry's interference at Hogwarts plays a huge role throughout "Order of the Phoenix," and it's made abundantly clear that readers are meant to resent this intrusion as much as the characters do. Umbridge's speech on doing away with "progress for the sake of progress" is not only reminiscent of political figures, hanging desperately onto their outdated views, but it also demonstrates how schools can be used as political weapons.
The Educational Decrees that Umbridge passes to grant herself more governance at Hogwarts yield a great deal of resistance, but the Ministry forces its morals and beliefs onto the student population. Anyone deviating from their standards is investigated in an attempt to throw them out.
The entire storyline involving the Ministry at Hogwarts shows the dangers of bringing politics into education, particularly when it comes to letting kids develop their thoughts and values.
6. Political influence on the media
It's no secret that news organizations tend to show bias depending on their political affiliations. News in the Wizarding World is no exception to this rule, a fact Rowling demonstrates throughout "Order of the Phoenix."
From the moment that Harry and Dumbledore cross the Minister of Magic, The Daily Prophet begins tarnishing their reputations accordingly. The paper makes snide remarks questioning their sanity and implying poor motives. At the worst of times, the Prophet flat out lies to its readers, intent on backing anything Cornelius Fudge deems the truth.
And it's clear as day that Fudge is the one who put them up to writing these scathing articles. He'd do anything to debunk Voldemort's return.
In "Half-Blood Prince," however, the Prophet's stance changes with the Minister. Rufus Scrimgeour is now backing Harry's story, and the paper begins referring to him as "The Chosen One" yet again. Rowling shows how easily our sources of news can be corrupted, particularly when under government influence.
7. Celebrity influence on politics
Celebrities have much sway when it comes to public opinion, and smart politicians use this to their advantage. We see this clearly in "Half-Blood Prince" when Scrimgeour, the newly elected Minister of Magic, tries to persuade Harry to be the Ministry's poster boy.
It's a clever tactic Scrimgeour uses, and he's probably correct in believing that it would raise morale if Harry were seen giving the Ministry a thumbs up. The public puts a certain trust in celebrity opinions, which shows how easily one person can persuade a group to vote a certain way.
And given that Scrimgeour wants to use Harry's influence to pull the wool over the public's eyes, we can see that this sort of celebrity authority may not always be a positive thing.
8. Dumbledore's take on tyranny
During "Half-Blood Prince," Dumbledore and Harry discuss the prophecy that landed Harry in his current situation. Dumbledore is insistent on making the point that Voldemort's choice to abide by the prophecy is what led to his downfall. Choices are undoubtedly a huge theme in the series, but Dumbledore then takes the conversation a step further. He tells Harry:
"Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants do everywhere! Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realize that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!"
This is a powerful analysis of oppression, and there's truth in Dumbledore's statement. Oppressors create their downfalls simply by the way they treat people. This is more than an explanation of the prophecy. It's the reason tyranny cannot last.
9. Standing your ground against injustice
The biggest political takeaway from "Harry Potter" is that change doesn't happen overnight. You have to keep fighting for what you believe is right, even in the face of adversity. The trio never ceases their efforts against Voldemort, regardless of the obstacles in their way.
Harry carries on contradicting Umbridge, even after she has him carve "I must not tell lies." into the back of his hand. Dumbledore and the Order continue to rally against Voldemort, even with the Ministry fighting them as well.
The repeated message throughout this series is to keep fighting for what's right, even if you're in the minority, and even if you're the only one.
And there's something beautifully political about that.